Pakistan protects eight wetlands…and plans to melt its glaciers to increase water supplies

Pakistan has announced that it has designated eight sites Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and plans major construction and melting glaciers in order to meet desperate water shortages.


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The newly-protected wetlands cover a total area of 2,220 square kilometres (860 square miles), bringing the nation’s total number of Ramsar sites to 16. The new sites include an extensive mangrove forest extending along Gawater Bay on the Arabian Sea to the Iranian border, and contiguous with Iran’s Govater Bay and Hur-e-Bahu Ramsar site; an uninhabited island off the coast, as well as other sandy beach coastal sites, which are important for endangered Olive Ridley and Green turtles; and a 170-km (106-mile) stretch of the Indus River that is vital for the survival of the once-common Indus dolphin.

However, many parts of the country are struggling to cope with drought, which has already caused famine in neighbouring Afghanistan, and the military government is proposing to melt some of Pakistan’s plentiful Himalayan, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain glaciers to provide water. This would be done by spraying black carbon onto the surface, to enable more radiation to be absorbed and increasing snow melt by at least 10%, but the idea is still at the laboratory stage. The idea has received a dubious response from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which said that melting glaciers could harm the environment and would not be as effective a solution as conservation and efficient use of water resources. An estimated 40% of the nation’s municipal water is wasted, the UNEP says.

The government is also planning more conventional solutions to the water crisis such as a 2,400 MegaWatt Kalabagh Dam Project, which is to be located on the nation’s most important natural power resource, the River Indus, 100 miles south-west of the capital, Islamabad. The dam project is the first major proposal of a 25-year National Water Resources Development Programme to tackle the threatening water shortages and anticipated large increases in power useage, which already increased from 10,500 MW in 1997 to 13,000 MW in 2000. The government has also approved the construction of three new dams and a canal, and has directed the Ministry of Finance to raise necessary funds to enable the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to develop small hydropower projects all over the country. WAPDA has identified 591 such sites, which could generate 1,000-1,500 MW of electricity besides providing water for irrigation. WAPDA will also this year begin work on four hydroelectric projects costing $1.5 billion with a capacity of 1,000 MW.

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